Tag Archives: journalism

User discretion is required

Here is a thought-provoking article in Indian Express that advises Internet users to use their own discretion instead of simply following the algorithmic contents additions that are thrown at them.

Undoubtedly the world is experiencing the greatest phase of democracy (up till now) through the advent of the Internet. To get educated, to inform yourself, to get aware, all you need is a smartphone to connect to the Internet. All the information is available at your disposal with a few taps, provided you’re receptive.

“Being receptive” is the key here.

Since anybody can publish anything on the Internet, the instances of fake and fabricated news are much greater compared to conventional media. But it isn’t like fake news and fabricated/biased opinion didn’t exist before Internet. The problems that we are facing currently are the results of an unmitigated access to publication media and information dissemination mechanisms to a select few. We used to have a very lopsided information ecosystem. Their writ ran large. The leftist intelligentsia completely controlled what we read, what we watched and what we listened to.

So, fake news and fake opinion and twisting facts have always been there. The difference is, due to the Internet, since it’s easier and faster for people to express themselves, fake news and fake opinion can be immediately countered.

Interestingly, the writer says:

One of the primary reasons this is so is because we don’t know how to navigate the internet’s fast-paced and wide-laned information highways. And, as editors, we don’t have the ability to be the traffic wardens we once were.

The writer begrudges the fact that unlike the pre-Internet days, a select-few cannot now act as “wardens”. Although we have all known since time immemorial that the flow of information was always controlled by these “wardens”, actually reading such expressions is a bit unnerving. It is like hearing about someone being murdered and someone actually being murdered right in front of you.

Why does he think that the general public requires some sort of “wardens” for supervision? Why does he think that people are not capable of judging for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong for them, especially considering the fact that he thinks that the “wardens” know what’s right and what’s wrong?

A few months ago when Donald Trump became the US President, the writer of this Wired article suggested that maybe people are not ready for democracy and they’re not ready for free availability of information. Just because the politician of his choice didn’t get elected, he questions the very existence of democracy and information access. The same sort of questions are routinely raised in India after Narendra Modi (to great extent) and Yogi Adityanath (to marginal extent) used the Internet to directly communicate with their core supporter base.

Actually, it is this mentality that disturbs people. Controlling the flow of information these days is very difficult and in fact, the information flow can only be controlled for those who allow it to be controlled.

Yes, algorithmic content suggestions are bad and people shouldn’t go for them. If your Internet platform asks you to “personalize” your feeds refrain from doing so. The writer of the above Indian Express article rightly says that the more you read a particular opinion (a particular point of view), the more of the same opinion you are recommended by the algorithm. This is the reason if you are reading fake news, there’s a great chance you will go on reading fake news unless you make an extra effort to find something different, something contradictory to read or watch.

Overall I agree with the writer’s point of view, the only thing that got my attention was the quote that I have presented above, that, people need “wardens” to form an unbiased opinion. This is not so. People are intelligent enough to differentiate between different opinions and then make their own choices. Yes, aberrations can occur but public opinion and democracy are a number game and eventually everything evens out.

What is the future of news and journalism?

Have you noticed the pattern of news broadcasting especially on the Indian news TV channels? Normally there is no “news” no matter how loudly some channels scream “Breaking News!”. Most are predictable political controversies. Then these controversies are used to target political parties and individuals. It normally begins with the statement or a declaration and then there is a litany of debates where they invite known and unknown panelists to scream their brains out until you can’t make sense of what they’re saying and what they want to prove, to each other, and to the viewer.

For instance, as I’m writing this, a woman NCP leader who also leads the Maharashtra Women’s Commission said yesterday that women get raped because of the way they dress or the way the stay out late. About the Nirbhaya rape she said, why was there need to go watch a movie late in the evening? Predictably, all TV news channels today are going to hyperventilate on the insensitivity of the leader, the patriarchal mentality that ails our society and whether the person should resign or apologize. Parallels will be drawn to various other personalities from various other political parties and fields who have previously mouthed such rubbish and the crescendo will be reached in the evening during prime time TV debates. I’m not saying that such debates shouldn’t happen and such characters shouldn’t be held responsible and taken to task, but when they go on and on, it becomes a bit overbearing. It becomes an obsession.

That is why from 8 PM onwards normally there is no news. There are debates. No news, just debates, and even if it is humanly impossible to ignore some major news, it is shown in flashes, between the debates.

Anyway, I’m talking about this just to stress upon the point that news these days doesn’t mean gathering information at various spots and attempting to inform people in a timely manner unless there is a catastrophe. Panelists and anchors are more famous than journalists and reporters; in fact many anchors unabashedly call themselves “journalists”.

Newspapers in the West are mostly dead (if not in terms of circulation or viewership than certainly in terms of revenue) although this might not be the case in India where a majority of population still relies on newspapers – mostly local, vernacular newspapers – to access news. The roadside chaiwala is everyday witness to highly charged up debates on various bits of news published, including politics.

The same happens on social networking websites like Twitter. A majority of links posted over there are from newspapers – both online versions of conventional newspapers as well as web-only newspapers. Then people discuss these links. They debate on the data and information contained within the link and then many post counter information and this goes on every day. Blogs and articles are written contesting the disputed article. However much powerful social media is, the main source of information remain conventional news agencies. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook cannot generate news themselves unless there comes a day when professional journalists start posting the news and investigative works on their own profiles rather than through newspapers and magazines. This may happen if a workable financial model can be developed.

Merely having an opinion doesn’t make you a journalist. It can make you a columnist, it can make you a writer and in some cases it can also make you an analyst (fair enough, and you can also make money). A journalist needs to go out to the places where an event is actually taking place and then give a first-hand experience – “first-hand” is the key word here. If you are not writing a first-hand experience you are merely gleaning information from here and there and then compiling it just the way one writes a blog post. In the early days of the Internet I came across many such “journalists” who would visit various news websites (very early in the morning) scouring the information needed for their own articles. I stopped tracking consciously, but I’m sure most of the journalists work like this these days. There may be very few journalists who visit places and events in order to write about them. Of course there are many niches where you cannot work without visiting actual places such as travel, entertainment and even technology summits.

As social media becomes more and more a part of our daily grain I think the quality of written journalism is going to improve tremendously. I’m not sure about TV news channels because they are more noise and less voice. A good thing about social media is every journalist is held accountable the moment he or she says something factually wrong or culturally/socially repulsive. This may force journalists to do their research and represent the actual truth rather than creating their own individual versions as they used to do when there was no direct way to hold them accountable and they couldn’t get immediate feedback. There are many journalists who don’t like this trend but this is because they are forced to work harder or they miss their ability to run political and ideological propaganda unencumbered and uncontested.

Are bloggers journalists?

This is the question being asked in this Forbes article. The theme of this article is slightly legal and US-based, but I am thinking in general, what makes a blogger a journalist? The answer is very straightforward. Not everybody who writes is a writer. Blogging is a form of journalling where you express your thoughts and opinions. It doesn’t necessarily have to be analytical and professional unless you are hired by a professional media house or a newspaper. There are many professional journalists who also blog and there are many bloggers who also take up journalism assignments on a full-time as well as part-time basis.

In the new-age media there are definitely many terms that are coming up and our legal terminology is need to be redefined to accommodate these terms and activities. For instance, even 10 years ago there were no such concept as a “citizen journalist”. Even right now it is a vague concept, but what if some people take up “citizen journalism” is a full-time career, I mean, who knows? For many blogging is a full-time career. There are already many blogs that are bigger than newspaper publications. There are many bloggers who are more trusted than journalists. Similarly, there might come a time when citizen journalists might be more trusted than our conventional journalists (especially in India due to the paid content problem in the news media).

Orthodox journalists might feel uncomfortable with such developments, as it has already been manifested. Anyway, the point is, there can be different definitions for different case scenarios. You might be a journalist if you are blogging for a newspaper as a columnist, and you might be a simple, non-affiliated blogger if you’re writing for yourself. Again, what about publications like TechCrunch that are not affiliated to any newspaper, they also report news and opinions, and they are published as  blogs?